I believe that family life, the grihastha asrama, is a theme of universal interest. Some will get married and some will not, some will have children and some will not. But even those who don’t get married and those who have already surpassed this phase of life will greatly benefit by knowing the basic dynamics, the rapport of weights and measures, and the values of family life in the Vedic-Vaishnava civilization. In the past so much damage has been done by people who tried, disastrously, to handle the life of others without positive experience or training in the dynamics of marriage relationships. Therefore those directly involved in family life—as well as those who have to come in touch with those directly involved—should know about the fundamental principles and values on which family relations are based. To know such fundamentals of the grihastha asrama is an integral part of spiritual realization, not because it’s in itself something spiritual, but because it’s a social organization favorable to spiritual realization.
Even those who renounce family life for a more elevated aim will always be in touch with those in family life. Directly or indirectly everyone is interested in family life, either because one is married, or because one plans to form a family, or because one has brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, or parents in family life. In this way this asrama is fundamental and is not completely avoidable even for those who desire to live as brahmacaris—a very noble commitment and intention.
From Krishna’s point of view there is no difference whatsoever between brahmacari asrama, grihastha asrama, vanaprastha asrama and sannyasa asrama. These are four positions or stages of life in which one places oneself for self-realization. The goal of life is not to become sannyasi or brahmacari, or to become grihastha or vanaprastha. The goal of life is self-realization. However, it is necessary to spend time speaking of the grihastha asrama because in this stage of life many people complicate their problems and their relationships. Many people have therefore proposed alternative arrangements to married life but they all have been appalling disasters. Family life is certainly the most complex stage in terms of interface with the world. One has to deal with economy and with a whole series of connections and relationships—sometimes extremely difficult—such as children, parents, brothers and sisters. Delivering One’s Dependents A parent’s ultimate responsibility
Question: In the Fifth Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam Rishabhadeva states: “One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.” [SB 5.5.18] Could you comment?
Answer: We can’t force anyone to go to the spiritual world but we can honestly take the responsibility of doing whatever is possible to help a person to untie his or her karmic bonds. It happened that I had to advice people in debt. Their real problem is not the debt with the bank or with somebody else; their problem is their behavior and their mentality, structurally wrong. If someone in a moment of generosity would pay back their debts, they would continue to incur in debt anyway, because insolvency is ingrained in their character. They do things in the wrong way and produce debts. This is similar with karmic debts; it comes from the same source: errors inside, a deformed mind. This statement by Rishabhadeva means that we should do our best to rectify people’s mind. Diseases, for instance, are other types of debts but the dynamics are the same.
There is no such thing as good and bad luck; what exists is the way of doing things, the mood, the quality of the mind and of the intellect. We have to analyze the vasanas or the latent desires. When the latent desires are negative, the negative eventually comes out. Someone may accumulate money and not make economic debts, but the same person may make debts in his relationships. A person might create enemies left and right, and those are extremely heavy debts. Other people are very capable in the field of relationships but whatever they do and touch ends in disaster. These are also debts. Therefore the sastras teach that we should control the senses, for life becomes risky when even a single sense breaks free.
Have you seen the dependence of the smoker, who surreptitiously gets away to go and have a cigarette? Have you seen the character-deformation of an alcoholic, or of a cocaine-addict, or of a gambler? They live in great suffering and with great internal conflict. The gambler knows that he is destroying his life and the life of those around him. Well-equipped casinos in the past had a room with a notary ready to write the will of a complete loser and provide him a place to commit suicide. Gamblers know that gambling is bad; they cry and bang their head into the wall; they know that by playing they ruin themselves and their families, but it overwhelms them. Similar dynamics are there for the women- or men-hunters, the assaulters of others’ purity.
Therefore we should educate people to control their senses from childhood. This is what Rishabhadeva is saying. And one must have self-control himself, otherwise how can he educate others? How someone who smokes can tell another to stop? So Rishabhadeva says that one who assumes the responsibility for others should be able to guarantee them liberation—guarantee it from his side—but they are not wood-heads, they are not automatons; they can choose. Everyone has to endeavor, but the leader should educate others to be free from the conditioning of the six degrading impulses: the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals. In this sense the husband, the father, the mother should be gurus, even if they don’t know the sacred science in depth.
From a lecture by Matsyavatara Prabhu. Translated from the Italian by Kaunteya Das